News Stories

White Coats for Black Lives

As leaders and stewards of the Department of Surgery at Washington University in St. Louis, we feel compelled to make a statement about recent events in our country. We deplore the tragic death of George Floyd, yet another brutal and senseless act of racism. Mr. Floyd’s murder re-opens the all-too-fresh wounds from racially charged events right here in St. Louis, notably the tragic death of Michael Brown. We acknowledge the pain and fear that racism has caused and recognize how, as silent bystanders, we need to accept responsibility for our role in systemic racism.

The leadership of the Department of Surgery is sincerely committed to ensuring that all people, including Black colleagues, feel safe and supported while working in any component of our department. We emphatically embrace pursuing racial equity and inclusion in all of our policies and procedures and all daily activities, and we recognize that every part of our department needs to be part of the solution. In addition, the members of the Surgery Executive Council realize that we, despite our good intentions, have not been as inclusive and diverse as a profession as we need to be. We also acknowledge that systemic racism is all too prevalent in clinical, research, and educational activities.

We, therefore, are committed to engaging in honest self-reflection and understanding the current impact of structural racism in our healthcare systems environment, we are prepared to act to influence systemic change. We will redouble our efforts toward recruitment, retention and mentorship of Black trainees, faculty, and staff, in order to ensure diverse and well-prepared leaders in our field. We fully embrace the goal of providing equal access to all levels of patient-centered care for all patients, and ensuring we implement strategies to serve those most in need. This care encompasses excellence in education, prevention, and advanced surgical care, to be delivered in a culturally competent and compassionate manner. We will increase our investment to provide high quality and accessible care to communities of need, including our commitment to Christian Hospital and Siteman Cancer Center North County. We have created a task force to improve our education, outreach, communications, and navigation of patients, using the expertise of our Division of Public Health Sciences, in concert with our North County clinical surgeons.

It is our hope that we can use this most recent glaring example of racism as a turning point to reexamine our internal culture and systems, and make changes to address our own systemic, racist practices and policies. We promise to challenge ourselves and each other to be part of the solution and help heal the pain and fear in the Black community, and foster an equitable and inclusive society.

Timothy J. Eberlein, MD
Bixby Professor and Chair, Department of Surgery

From left: Timothy Eberlein kneels alongside Michael Brunt, MD, Section Chief of Minimally Invasive Surgery (Photo: Matt Miller/Washington University).

Department of Surgery Unites in Support of White Coats for Black Lives

Physicians, trainees and medical students from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis stood in solidarity with health care professionals across the country in reflection and commitment to improve the health and safety of people of color through the White Coats for Black Lives event. On June 5, 2020, members of the medical school gathered along Kingshighway Boulevard, where they stood with raised fists and homemade signs.

“As they lined Kingshighway,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports, “some spilling into Forest Park, people driving by honked their horns and raised their fists out their windows.”

White Coats for Black Lives culminated in 8 minutes and 46 seconds of silence in honor of George Floyd. “That’s the length of time a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck on May 25,” reports the Post-Dispatch. “His death has sparked protests around the country. The White Coats for Black Lives event was held in conjunction with other hospitals across the area and country.”

Members of the Department of Surgery were deeply impacted by the show of support from across the medical school and the St. Louis community. In the days following the event, department members reflected on the experience and how it will impact their involvement in addressing the public health crisis of racism.

The Department of Surgery recognizes racism as a public health crisis—one that affects people of color in every aspect of life, and impacts our institution’s clinical, research and educational missions. Department faculty, staff and trainees are committed to pursuing racial equity and making continuous improvements to institutional practices moving forward.